The Portland Arms was packed to the rafters for a long sold-out performance by London singer songwriter Michael Kiwanuka, a warm-up gig for a tour to promote his long awaited second album due in July.
Clean Cut Kid are a four-piece from Liverpool, mixing together dual lead vocals, some 80s style keyboard and pulsing rhythms to make infectious pop such as the opening song ‘Runaway’. The intensity of slower blues of ‘Brother Of Mine’ led into their best two songs of the night ‘Pick Me Up’ and single ‘ Vitamin C’. They were feisty, tight and enthusiastic, setting us up nicely for the evening.
As the stage was meticulously prepared for the six musicians, expectations were high. When Michael arrived on stage the opening tune stretched the anticipation further with a lengthy instrumental, slide guitar over stately keyboards. But when he started singing, that stunning emotive vocal prowess and super-cool instrumental arrangements were perfectly in place. After two songs from the forthcoming album we were on more familiar ground with ‘Tell Me A Tale’, the opening song from his acclaimed debut, the 2012 LP ‘Home Again’. Like an early ’70s Van Morrison track it slides and floats, with a simple lyric driving a complex backing.
‘One More Night’ and ‘Black Man In A White World’ are newer and show a change towards a faster tempo. For me, the highlights were when Michael picked up the acoustic guitar for ‘Always Waiting’, ‘I’m Getting Ready’ and the quietly tender ‘Rest’ (the first song he wrote, accompanied tonight by just the bass).
Of course the encore had to be his most well-known song ‘Home Again'(24 million Spotify plays!) and then a long version of ‘Love And Hate’ when he seemed to simultaneously sing the lead and backing vocals. The band were splendid, with smooth drumming and percussion as well as some timeless electric piano, showcasing the star quality of Michael Kiwanuka.